Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

What is Nursing Home Neglect?

The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act [210 ILCS 45/1-101 et seq.] defines neglect as “a facility’s failure to provide, or willful withholding of, adequate medical care, mental health treatment, psychiatric rehabilitation, personal care, or assistance with activities of daily living that is necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness of a resident.” A ‘facility’ is defined by the Act as “a private home, institution, building, residence, or any other place…which provides…personal care, sheltered care or nursing for 3 or more persons….It includes skilled nursing facilities and intermediate care facilities….” Nursing home neglect can come in many forms. Sometimes it may be obvious such as an unexplained fracture. Other times it is not, such as when a nursing home resident begins losing weight or becomes dehydrated.

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What is Nursing Home Abuse?

In Illinois, nursing home abuse is defined by the Act as “any physical or mental injury or sexual assault inflicted on a resident other than by accidental means in a facility.” In addition to the more obvious forms of abuse (physical and sexual), the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act includes emotional or psychological abuse (eg. belittling) and financial abuse.

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What are the Various Types of Neglect and Abuse?

Nursing home abuse and neglect can involve not only the physical well-being of the resident, but also the mental, emotional and/or psychological well-being of the resident as well. Common examples include but are not limited to the following:

  • failure to provide proper nutrition and hydration
  • failure to assist in personal hygiene when needed
  • over-medication or under-medication
  • failure to take reasonable precautions to prevent falls
  • failure to answer call lights in a timely fashion
  • failure to turn residents in their beds (leading to pressure sores)
  • failure to take residents to the toilet (leaving them in soiled garments or beds)
  • slapping or other physical abuse of the resident
  • use of unwarranted chemical or physical restraints
  • emotional or verbal abuse of the resident
  • retaliation for making a complaint or filing a grievance
  • failure to take adequate precautions to prevent injury to the resident
  • failure to provide for appropriate medical care
  • theft of the resident’s money or other personal property

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What are the Signs That Abuse or Neglect May be Occurring?

The following examples could be evidence of nursing home abuse or neglect and need to be investigated:

  • bedsores (also known as “pressure sores”, “pressure ulcers”, and “decubitus ulcers”)
  • skin rash
  • urine and/or feces odor, soiled linen or clothing
  • lack of attention to resident’s personal hygiene
  • falls resulting from lack of adequate precautions or assistance
  • numerous falls
  • skin tears, bruises, contusions, or lesions
  • bone fractures, sprains
  • significant weight loss
  • complaints of severe thirst or hunger by the resident
  • dehydration or malnutrition
  • infections
  • disorientation, agitation
  • depression, isolation or withdrawal
  • engaging in unusual behavior such as thumb-sucking or rocking (often reactions to emotional abuse)
  • unexplained mood changes
  • fear or anxiety
  • unexplained refusal or inability to communicate
  • presence of unjustified or unreasonable chemical (eg. over sedation) or physical restraints
  • medication errors
  • numerous emergency room visits or hospitalizations or visits under suspicious conditions
  • complaints by the resident if capable of communicating about the abuse or neglect
  • the facility will not or cannot respond to questions about the resident’s condition
  • unexplained injury or death

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What can I do if I Suspect Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect?

If you suspect nursing home abuse and/or neglect, an immediate investigation is required. The health and safety of the resident is the first priority. You should bring it to the attention of the nursing home administrator and/or the director of nursing (DON) at the nursing home who should immediately investigate the matter. If the matter involves criminal activity, the local law enforcement agency also should be contacted. In addition, you may report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of ‘older persons living in a long term care facility’ to your local Long Term Care Sub–State Ombudsman, listed in the Directory of Agencies and Organizations Serving Seniors or the Senior Helpline or contact the Illinois Department of Public Health Nursing Home Hotline at 1-800-252-4343, 1-800-547-0466 (TTY). It is also recommended to remove the resident from the nursing home if alternate arrangements for their care can be made, and seek the assistance of an attorney who specializes in Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse cases. An experienced attorney can bring a civil action against the nursing home and its agents who are responsible for the neglect and/or abuse in order to recover monetary damages for the resident’s injuries, including pain and suffering, and mental anguish, and in the event of the resident’s wrongful death, the loss to the family members.

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Will My Loved One be Subjected to More Abuse or Neglect if We Complain?

Although this is often the fear, it is almost always suggested that you voice your complaints. Direct your complaints to the nursing home administrator, and be sure to express your concerns or fear of retribution. You may also want to ask the nursing home administrator for the local Ombudsman’s Office contact information. You may see improvement, however, if you are not satisfied, contact an experienced attorney.

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What is the First Step in Pursuing a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Claim?

If you suspect nursing home abuse and/or neglect, contact an experienced attorney who specializes in Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse to discuss your suspicions. The attorney will want to obtain the resident’s nursing home and medical records and any other significant information. The resident or guardian or family member if the resident is deceased will need to sign a release in order for the attorney to obtain these records. After review of the records, the attorney will advise you if he or she believes there is a good case. If yes, the attorney will take the necessary steps to file a lawsuit against the facility or facilities and any individuals that are believed to have committed the abuse or neglect.

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How Much Will It Cost to Pursue a Nursing Home Case?

At Ed Fox & Associates, Ltd., we work on a contingency fee basis, which means that we do not charge you an hourly rate for our services but will be paid a percentage of any recovery in the event of a settlement. Reimbursement for expenses we have incurred (such as expert fees, deposition costs, etc.) will also be paid from settlement proceeds. However, if the case goes to trial and we receive a judgment in your favor, then under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, the nursing home has to pay our fees and costs. There may also be liens from health care providers or government entities, such as, Medicare, which have to be paid first from any recovery.

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Who can File a Lawsuit Against a Nursing Home?

A lawsuit can be filed by the resident, their guardian if one has been appointed or by a family member on their behalf. In the event of the resident’s death, a family member may be appointed the decedent’s special representative. However, in some circumstances, an estate has been or must be opened, in which case, the individual who has been appointed the executor or administrator of the estate must bring the lawsuit on behalf of the deceased’s estate.

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How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit Against a Nursing Home for Abuse or Neglect?

In Illinois, an injured adult nursing home resident or someone on his or her behalf has two years from the date of the negligent act or abuse to file a lawsuit against the nursing home. This is called the Statute of Limitations. However, given that nursing home and medical records must be obtained and that legal and sometimes expert analysis must be done prior to filing a lawsuit, you should not wait until the statute of limitations period is nearing its end. The attorney may not have enough time to complete his or her review, documents may have been destroyed, memories faded and witnesses may have become unavailable. So, if you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect, contact an attorney as soon as possible.

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What if My Loved One is Being Abused or Neglected in an Assisted Living, Psychiatric or Other Facility Not Covered by the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act?

Although the law governing neglect and abuse at skilled nursing or intermediate care facilities is different than that of assisted living and other facilities, the facts and allegations are very similar. A resident or family member on the resident’s behalf may sue these facilities for injuries sustained by a patient or resident as a result of abuse or neglect under the laws governing general negligence. At Ed Fox & Associates, Ltd., we have represented many clients against numerous facilities not subject to the rules of the Nursing Home Care Act.

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If you have a question that was not covered in the above Frequently Asked Questions or if your question was not fully answered, call or contact us today for additional information.

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